Ruso-Georgian Media War
There's no doubt that Georgia's military intervention in South Ossetia has lead to a war between Georgia and Russia. While the military situation is still hard to grasp, Georgia and Russia -- the latter being South Ossetia's traditional protecting power -- have also begun a media and information war. It won't make it easier to reach a political solution to the conflict. Most likely, the conflict will even broaden the estrangement between Russia and the West.
Georgia -- victim or aggressor?
Georgian President Saakashvili is presenting his military actions against the South Ossetian regime as righteous ones. From a legal point of view, he's not wrong. The republic of South Ossetia, which is not recognized internationally, formally belongs to the Georgian state even if Tbilisi has lost factual control there for the past 15 years and almost all residents have Russian passports.
Interestingly enough, Saakashvili uses the same words to describe the military operation in South Ossetia that Russia used to justify its intervention in Chechnya: "Restoring the constutional order" in Georgia. As far as Saakashvili is concerned, Russia's involvement in South Ossetia amounts to a declaration of war against Georgia and the involvement in the internal affairs of a neighboring state -- not without hope for western, especially American support against the alleged Russian aggressor.
Humanitarian intervention or Russian imperialism?
In a similarly mixed-up way, Russia is trying to justify its policies. In line with western arguments during the NATO mission against Serbia to protect Kosovo, Russian officials are now presenting the military intervention as a "humanitarian" one: Moscow needs to save "Russian lives" and strengthen the so-called Russian peacekeepers.
This could help to justify air attacks against Georgian cities and infrastructure -- just like NATO did in Serbia. In case of a successful military mission in South Ossetia, a future independence and subsequent Russian incorporation of South Ossetia could be justified -- true to the western scenario in Kosovo. Keeping in mind the highly patriotic mood in Russia, this development would also get the support of large parts of the Russian society, which is still traumatized by the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
It's hard to predict the military outcome and any future political developments right now. But one thing is certain: Both sides have learned from each other, but haven't understood a thing. The alienation between Russia and Georgia, between Russia and the West, will increase because of the war in South Ossetia.
Ingo Mannteufel heads Deutsche Welle's Russian online and radio programs (win).